A Twilight Samurai Rediscovers Thunder

WBC Middleweight World Championship: Sergio Martinez v Miguel Cotto

It’s abundantly clear now. On Mexican Independence Day Weekend, September 2012, in Las Vegas, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. gave Sergio Martinez the chance to be a STAR on boxing’s biggest stage. For the three minutes of the twelfth and final round of that fight, Chavez Jr. also effectively ruined the rest of Martinez’ career.

The hellacious physical toll he exacted was both direct – with his fists – and indirect – being party to the hand and knee injuries Martinez suffered and remains handicapped by, to this day. What was seen then as pretty much a blip on Martinez’ otherwise dominant performance, in the most lucrative fight of his career, was irrefutably revealed this weekend, as a tolling bell whose resonance Martinez was no longer able to deny.

The moment in Round 1 when Cotto attacked early, got through clean and landed hard; it was that resonance, as much as the punches themselves, which shook Martinez to his boot-soles.

There had been all sorts of rumours in the lead-up. The man known as Maravilla for his athletic, freewheeling style had only had one fight in the two years since Chavez Jr. A rousing homecoming in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in front of almost 50,000 passionate partisans, filling an outdoor football stadium, in the midst of a tempest.

Martinez was fighting an Englishman, Martin Murray, whose lone reverse was a heavily disputed draw, away in Germany to Felix Sturm – the man Sam Soliman defeated last week – in a fight many thought he won. History tells us Martinez eked out a close decision against a fighter who gave away the early rounds, doing nothing, then eventually did enough to seem to be on course, for a come-from-behind victory. Problem was, Murray appeared content to remain on the brink, not realising the physical mess Martinez had become. Instead of steamrolling, Murray advanced cautiously enough to allow the ailing champion to take advantage of that misplaced respect.

Martinez won that fight on fumes, while Murray idled futilely in neutral, not recognising his moment had arrived. This weekend, it was obvious Miguel Cotto would not make the same mistake.

This atypically taciturn Puerto Rican, from the sun-bathed glory of the typically boisterous island protectorate of the U.S.A. – home of pugilistic extroverts like Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho, and the soon to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, Felix ‘Tito’ Trinidad – is now the proud owner of something both these men fought for and failed to win, a World Middleweight Championship.

And Cotto won it by filling his moment of opportunity, with every ounce of sanctioned violence left within his own doubted and abused, boxing veteran’s body.

That’s what made this fight so intriguing. Neither of these guys is a natural middleweight. However, circumstances dictated Martinez – often the ‘B-Side’ (as Cotto shrewdly clarified pre-fight) in the highest echelon matchups – had to move up one weight division, from his natural junior-middleweight, in order to participate in lucrative marquee matchups. An underdog against the ill-fated pair (for different reasons) Paul Williams and Kelly Pavlik, Martinez was athletic enough to overcome the odds against him, to win.

While still optimally a junior-middleweight, Martinez grew into the universally recognised class of one of boxing’s classic categories. Miguel Cotto on the other hand, is still optimally a welterweight, two weight classes and about six kilograms lighter than where he won the Title this weekend.

Cotto though, despite his introverted nature, is a bona-fide star in the boxing firmament. Behind the lamplighters Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto is universally recognised as the third-biggest box office draw in boxing’s galaxy of stars. Unlike the Top Two, whose silly, sulky, petulant inability to come to terms means they haven’t fought each other, Cotto has fought EVERYONE.

The only viable opponent Cotto hasn’t faced yet is neophyte Mexican (Richie Cunningham doppelganger), Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. Cotto made the conscious decision to chase history and become the first Puerto Rican to win a World Title in a fourth weight-division, instead. He dared to be great. Alvarez could wait his turn.

(Now that Golden Boy Founder Oscar de la Hoya and his former (and Cotto’s current) promoter Top Rank President, Bob Arum, have made peace, that could be next).

But this weekend Cotto lived in the moment and fought with the urgency of a man not content to wait for that moment to come to him. He seized it with the fierceness of a slavering mastiff, even though he seemed to be the comparative chihuahua in the fight.

No. Miguel Cotto was not content to wait. That might have been something he learnt from Martin Murray’s mistake. It might have been something drummed into him by Hall of Fame Trainer Freddie Roach. I tend to think it was the innate Champion’s mentality Cotto rediscovered under Roach. The rediscovery of what once had been his, but was now in doubt.

Instead, it was the doubts about Martinez that Cotto made the story of the night. His fierce three-knockdown, first round blitz showed Martinez he would get no respect he could not earn on the night. And they showed everyone watching who doubted, there would only be one competitor under a cloud on this night.

And so all the debts Sergio Martinez incurred on that September night in 2012, were collected by the unexpected thunder in Miguel Cotto’s fists. When combined with a physical toll long overdue being called to account, Sergio Martinez found to his desperate chagrin, all his tanks had run empty.

Miguel Cotto though, now stands on the precipice of yet another summit climbed. A man we thought to be a Twilight Samurai now has a New Dawn to look forward to.

Comments

  1. Ripper piece Gregor. I don’t know a lot about Cotto. Must have been a brutal stoush.

  2. Gregor Lewis says

    Thanks mate!

    It was brutal for Martinez certainly.

    Cotto is a throwback fighter. A combination of prosaic pragmatism and fierce loyalty and determination.

    Look up any of his fights with the likes of Ricardo Torres, Zab Judah, Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito 1&2, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Paulie Malinaggi, Joshua Clottey, etc.

    He’s fought ’em ALL.

    You won’t be disappointed.

    grl

  3. Roberto Duran type?

  4. Gregor Lewis says

    A more contained version. Not as brilliant but also not as inconsistent as Duran after he started going up in weight.

    Duran is an All-Time great, I think the best lightweight ever. Cotto is an elite fighter of his era. No more.

    But well worth the look, nonetheless.

    grl

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